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The Bahrain Grand Prix Preview - a BMW Sauber breakthrough? 03 Apr 2008

Nick Heidfeld (GER) BMW Sauber F1.07.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 3, Bahrain Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain, Saturday, 14 April 2007 (L to R): Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Ferrari; Jean Todt (FRA) Ferrari Sporting Director and Felipe Massa (BRA) Ferrari celebrate.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 3, Bahrain Grand Prix, Race, Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain, Sunday, 15 April 2007 Scenic action.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 3, Bahrain Grand Prix, Race, Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain, Sunday, 15 April 2007 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren Mercedes MP4/22 makes a pitstop.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 3, Bahrain Grand Prix, Race, Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain, Sunday, 15 April 2007 David Coulthard (GBR) Red Bull Racing RB3.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 3, Bahrain Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain, Saturday, 14 April 2007

BMW Sauber do not want to commit themselves to any hierarchical order at the moment, to quote technical director Willy Rampf, but there is absolutely no doubt that they head into this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix at Sakhir determined to keep up their good work and to do everything that they can to challenge the dominance of Ferrari and McLaren.

Can they do it? The performance of the BMW Sauber F1.08 in Australia and Malaysia suggests that they will at worst be able to keep up the pressure on their rivals.

"Our bottom line after the first batch of overseas races looks pretty good: we're very happy with our two second places in Melbourne and Sepang, our first fastest race lap in Malaysia and 19 points in the championship," team boss Mario Theissen said this week. "So, after a brief pit stop back home, we will be heading for Bahrain well motivated. We aim to keep up the same level of performance as we've shown so far."

Ferrari are feeling very confident once again, following Kimi Raikkonen’s dominant victory in Sepang. “We showed there what we are really capable of,” said team principal Stefano Domenicali. “We believe that our title challenge is now well and truly launched.”

Ferrari may have an advantage, together with Toyota, having tested here previously this year. McLaren, meanwhile, insist that not testing here will not disadvantage them.

"Of course we would have liked to test in Bahrain but we do have to prioritise where we spend our time,” says their Formula One CEO Martin Whitmarsh. “Over the winter we have improved the aerodynamic efficiency of the car and cooling generally so it’s not currently one of our vulnerable points. We have good data from running at the Bahrain track in previous years so we are confident it will not prove too much of a disadvantage."

Championship leader Lewis Hamilton loves the place: "Bahrain is a really cool circuit; it is quite different to any other because you are literally driving round the desert. There are no trees or buildings as you are driving round, just desert. I really like the track, there are a lot of opportunities to overtake, for example Turns One, Four, Seven, and 10. With all the straights you can do a lot of slipstreaming and then make sure you get good exits. So in terms of racing it is a very good track.

“The layout is a great design, starting off with a very long straight, then down to a very tight first gear corner and then you accelerate through a slight kink before going up another long straight. It is a curvy circuit with lots of kinks and gradient changes that are quite large in some areas. Also the wind plays a big part, bringing sand on to the track that means any part that is off line is very slippery. It is very hot in Bahrain, as in Australia and Malaysia, so it is ideal that these three are together at the beginning as they are all very physically demanding and you can prepare for them all at one time.

"I love the Bahrain race, it is one of the ones I really look forward too, like Monaco and Spa. I have a lot of good memories of the track; last year I had a fantastic race. It was great fun and I took my third podium in Formula 1 and took the joint lead of the World Championship, it was a bit unreal. The best memory is from 2004: I recovered from a disastrous qualifying in F3, and I ended up in 23rd. I worked my way back up the grid to win the race. That was one of the most emotional races I had been involved in up to that point."

Elsewhere, Red Bull and Toyota are seeking to continue their improved performance, Renault are looking for more on a track where the R25 and R26 models were previously victorious, and Williams are desperate to put the nightmare of Sepang behind them and run back at the head of the midfield as they did in Australia.

Like the Circuit du Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, Sepang is very tough on brakes, with some heavy braking at the end of the high-speed straights, and the effect of wind and sand blown on to the track as a result can lead to sudden changes in grip levels. It is also tough on engines. All teams take precautions against the ingress of sand, and because of the way that the four long straights are each followed by tight corners, the engine’s load profile is in the medium range with two thirds of a lap run under full throttle.

In the 2008 drivers’ championship chase, Hamilton leads with 14 points from Raikkonen and Nick Heidfeld on 11 and Heikki Kovalainen on 10, while the constructors’ table sees McLaren on 24, BMW Sauber on 19 and Ferrari on 11.